Since its inception, ride-hailing giant Uber has faced complaints from its drivers on a number of issues.
The company says it is taking steps to mend those problems -- and that the impact of those changes can be seen in Austin, a city Uber has only been servicing for about two months after being gone for about a year as it waged a battle with city officials over driver regulations.
On Tuesday, Uber announced the beginning of the second phase of its “180 Days of Change” campaign,” an effort to respond to drivers’ complaints by initiating new features and policies that it says drivers have sought. The latest phase includes a 24/7 hotline, fare fixes and other upgrades, and is intended to give drivers added protections and provide them more support beginning in Austin and elsewhere, the company said.
“We recognize that drivers are the backbone of what makes the Uber (phone) app so successful,” Uber spokesman Trevor Theunissen said. “One of the bigger complaints we've heard from drivers is that Uber doesn't listen to and understand the challenges that I have on a daily basis on using the app and don’t feel like I get any support. This 180 days is indicative that we’ve been listening and we understand it takes more than words. We have to actually make real change.”
The most significant change for Austin drivers is a 24/7 driver hotline that debuted on Tuesday.
Austin is one of only 16 cities where the hotline has been implemented. The only other Texas location is Houston.
Uber drivers can now call the hotline for any type of support. Previously, drivers’ only options included emailing the company or driving to the nearest Uber hub. The hotline answers one of the largest complaints by Uber drivers, Theunissen said.
“We’ve heard from Austin drivers specifically when we were not operating here and when we were operating here that this was a big pain point for them,” he said. “They didn’t have someone they could talk to.”
There are six other features that rolled out on Tuesday, the company said, although not all will be immediately available in Austin.
Those that are include what Uber calls “Easy Fare Fixes,” which addresses instances when drivers forget to start a trip once they've picked up a customer, a requirement that impacts the charge for the ride. Drivers now have the option to update the pickup and drop-off location they drove for a customer if they forgot to start the route without having to contact Uber directly.
Drivers in Austin and in all other markets also now have access to ratings protection, which removes any negative rating given to a driver from a rider if the reason given by the rider is related to a traffic issue that was out of the driver’s control.
Also beginning on Tuesday was a “faster documents review“ feature. Uber said it has sped up the application process for drivers. Instead of waiting weeks to receive approval to become an driver, the company is promising an answer within two hours of submitting the necessary documents. Uber has improved technology and grown its workforce to streamline this issue, Theunissen said.
Uber says it's also revised some of its policies to “ensure they’re driver friendly.”
Two features that will only be available in certain markets until August and September are appointments for drivers at hubs and payment for returning lost items.
Beginning in August, drivers in Austin and elsewhere will be paid $15 for every item they find and return to a customer. The rate is charged to the customer.
Mending issues with drivers, which work as independent contractors rather than employees, has been a top priority for Uber. The San-Francisco based company has experienced a scandal-filled year that has included accusations of workplace harassment, legal issues and the ousting of former CEO Travis Kalanick.
In Austin, Uber had additional problems.
The company, along with ride-hailing rival Lyft, went to battle with city officials over driver regulations more than a year ago.
Both companies left the city in 2016 after losing an expensive fight to throw out an Austin ordinance that required fingerprint checks for drivers.
The companies argued that their background checks were sufficient, but Austin voters upheld the ordinance.
Uber and Lyft returned in May after Gov. Greg Abbott signed a statewide ride-hailing law that eliminated local ride-hailing rules.
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